Tax Returns and Now Tax Policy—What’s Mitt Romney Hiding?

Romney’s newest tax disclosure problem.

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You'd think Mitt Romney's campaign would be happy about the report this week by the Tax Policy Center—the demands for the former Massachusetts governor to release more of his tax returns have finally been quieted. Of course they're none too pleased that the obsession with his making public more tax returns has been replaced by calls for him to release more of his tax plans.

Romney's tax plan contemplates an across the board 20 percent tax cut, among other things. He and his people swear that the plan would be revenue neutral—it would not cause the budget deficit to further balloon—because while he cut rates he would also close loopholes. Which ones? He has pointedly not said, and scoffed whenever any independent groups tried to run the numbers to figure out how his plan would work. "It can't be scored because those kind of details have to be worked out with Congress and we have a wide array of options," he told CNBC in March. How could he be sure that his tax plan is revenue neutral if the details haven't been worked out yet? You'll just have to trust him on this.

But the new Tax Policy Center blows this argument out of the water—they ran the numbers and figured out that no matter which numbers Romney plugs in (even magical, supply-side, dynamic scoring numbers), there aren't enough loopholes to close to pay for the tax cuts. The result would be what the New York Times's Paul Krugman calls Dooh Nibor—reverse Robin Hood economics: Rob from the middle class to pay the wealthy.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

Romney's team has flailed around trying to discredit the Tax Policy Center, calling the group's credibility into question (though Romney-cons cited it as authoritative earlier in the campaign) and arguing that it doesn't take into account the special economic growth mojo of tax cuts (it in fact does). Here's what they haven't done: release the missing details that make his plan add up. Maybe that's because they haven't worked out the details yet (so how do you know the numbers will add up?). Or maybe it's because the details involve numbers of Romney's own invention which defy the ordinary laws of arithmetic and exist at a frequency which can only be heard by dogs traveling down the highway at high speeds while strapped to the roofs of cars. That would actually answer a few questions.

Romney's two front tax-withholding—not giving an inch more on his tax returns or his tax plans—reminds me of the old aphorism attributed to Abraham Lincoln that it's better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. It seems like the Romney campaign is updating and adapting the sentiment for modern politics. They're testing whether it's better to be silent and thought to be hiding something damaging than to fully disclose and remove all doubt.

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